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Cheap Beer Review: Steel Reserve? More like Steel Your Nerves

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SCENE sometimes runs valuable coverage of beer and the beer industry. This is not that. This is Cheap Beer Review, an occasional feature in which I extol the virtues (or bemoan the failings) of various cans of pale yellow swill. It is a dumb feature, and I love it.

The beer: It’s Steel Reserve, the beer that (even in college, when I was knocking back 40s of malt liquor two at a time) has always seemed a bridge too far. That’s not because it contains THAT much more alcohol than, say, Olde English 800 or St. Ides. It’s because those other brands always at least seemed like they were selling some version of fun. Steel Reserve, with its gray cans and “high gravity lager” tagline, always seemed to be saying, “I am oblivion. If you choose me, you choose oblivion.”

The stats: 8.1 percent alcohol by volume; 222 calories, 15 mg sodium, 14.9 mg carbs, 1 gram sugar per 12-ounce serving. Of course, no one has ever had a 12-ounce can of Steel Reserve. Maybe someone’s had a 16-ounce can. But it’s mostly sold in 24-ounce cans and 40-ounce bottles.

Official description: “The two-eleven mark, based on the medieval symbol for steel, appears only on Steel Reserve High Gravity Lager. We use nearly twice the ingredients of many normal lagers and brew for over twice as long as many quality beers.” It says that on the can. I don’t know what they mean by, “nearly twice the ingredients.” Is that more ingredients or the same number of ingredients but a higher volume of them? I think it’s the latter, but I really do not care. No one drinking a 24-ounce can of Steel Reserve is drinking it because of the ingredient quantity. Also, that 211 mark that represents the “medieval symbol for steel” or whatever? That’s not just on the high gravity lager these days; it’s also on the Steel Reserve Alloy Series, a line of fruit-flavored malt beverages with names like “Tropic Storm” and “Blue Razz.” (“Hey, Trevor, what does that 211 on your Blue Razz represent?” “Don’t you know, Jessica? It is the sacred symbol for medieval steel. It is born of iron and fire. It is strength within strength and upon strength. Also, it tastes a lot like Jolly Ranchers.”)

My description: It’s terrible. I did feel almost all the way drunk after one 24-ounce can, though. So at $1.59, that’s a pretty good deal.

Something I didn’t know: The Ramones did a series of Steel Reserve TV jingles in the 1990s. That makes me like Steel Reserve a little more and The Ramones a little less.

Overall rating: 2.11, which is the medieval symbol for “this beer is terrible.”

Reach Pat Muir at

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